Every team is going to face it at some point in such a tightly compacted schedule, and the Carolina Hurricanes are experiencing it now, as they are being pelted with a rash of injuries.
Fortunately for the team, the injuries all seem to be minor.
Joni Pitkanen, who has missed the team’s last two games with a lower-body injury, is the closest of the wounded bunch to returning to the ice. Muller said he hopes Pitkanen, who was walking around all right at Raleigh Center Ice on Tuesday, will be able to skate with the team on Wednesday.
Muller said there is a chance that Tim Gleason, who has also missed the team’s last two games with a lower-body injury, could get back on the ice Wednesday.
Jeff Skinner’s upper-body injury is “still being evaluated,” according to Muller. The 20-year-old forward, who did not make the trip to Montreal, will likely not skate on Wednesday, but Muller still hopes to have him available for Thursday's game.
Tim Brent, who traveled with the team to Montreal and left the morning skate early with a lower-body injury, is day-to-day. Tim Wallace did not practice with the Canes Tuesday and is also day-to-day.
“Tomorrow I’ll come in and see where some of these guys [are],” Muller said.
With Gleason, Pitkanen, Skinner and Brent all out of the lineup Monday night in Montreal, the Canes were missing two top-four defensemen – including the team-leader in average ice time per game (24:30) in Pitkanen – a top-six winger in Skinner who also ranks second on the team in scoring with 14 points (7g, 7a) and a power-play quarterback and a penalty killing specialist in Brent.
The Canes’ lineup was cobbled together through the course of the day with a couple of recalls from Charlotte, and the result was a group of 20 dressed players that included nine players (five forwards, three defensemen and a goalie) who had played for the Checkers at one point this season.
The third line featured Drayson Bowman, Riley Nash and Wallace, a threesome that has combined for 130 games in Charlotte this season. A number of times, all five Canes’ skaters were Checkers alumni, with the defensive pairing of Bobby Sanguinetti and Michal Jordan on the ice.
It was unfamiliar, yet familiar at the same time, since these players had already shared the same sheet of ice this year.
“It helps to have guys you’ve played with before. It makes the process easier,” Bowman said. “The coaching staff preaches to us to keep it simple, anyway, especially on the road. Having the lineup the way it was last night, it was especially important.”
“If you look at our season, what was really going well was guys being familiar with each other. Last night, really the first line was the only one that was in tact,” Muller said. “I was just trying to get guys that were familiar with each other and try it out like that. I knew they knew each other, so I was just trying to find ways to get energy from our group last night.”
After the team was unsure if they’d even get him to Montreal in time, Jeremy Welsh centered the Canes’ fourth line, his second game with the team this season and third of his career. He logged 7:18 of ice time and was 7-of-8 (88 percent) in the face-off circle.
“It’s huge to have a comfortability coming into the room and being at ease,” Welsh said. “Timmy (Wallace) was my roommate, so that helps a lot to be comfortable before the game in coming to the rink.”
Welsh had quite the President’s Day. He woke up in Grand Rapids, Mich., at 4:30 a.m. to catch a bus to the airport 30 minutes later. The Checkers had a 6:30 a.m. flight out of Grand Rapids to connect in Atlanta before landing in Charlotte. It was when Welsh was waiting at baggage claim in Charlotte that head coach Jeff Daniels informed him of the recall. Welsh then went back through security and hopped on a connecting flight to Philadelphia and, finally, Montreal. He took a cab to the Bell Centre, arriving about 90 minutes before puck drop.
“My legs were fine,” he said. “My eyes were just so heavy, as they are right now.”
The Hurricanes are scheduled to practice Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Raleigh Center Ice before taking on the Winnipeg Jets for the first time this season on Thursday.